I’m a huge lover of handguns! But, I think you’ll agree they do have their weaknesses…
They are underpowered, hard to shoot, lack penetration and lethality on targets, and are over regulated compared to other guns. However, you can take one with you just about anywhere. This makes them the most likely gun to be used in self-defense or just everyday utility around the ranch or farm.
Millions of Americans carry firearms safely every day. They do it, in part, by having the best holster for their pistol, or gun, and knowing how to use it.
This is the ultimate guide to the different types of holsters on the market, the pros, and cons of each type, the popular methods of carrying and construction materials for these holsters. As well as a few notes on legality and what to look out for in the world.
This is a huge subject that entire books have been written on but here’s a quick primer on choosing the best type of holster for you…
Table of Contents
- Types of Holsters
- Holster Materials
- Vehicle Carry
- Recommended Retention
- Choosing the Best Holster - Things to Consider
- The Verdict
Almost every state in the union allows some sort of concealed carry. Granted, you have to go through the proper hoops and channels to make sure that you are fully licensed, or move to a state where no license is required, but you have the option to carry a concealed firearm if you would like.
As long as you follow all rules and regulations regarding carrying and storing firearms in your state, and others you’re not likely to have any problems. If you cut corners, more than likely you will be caught and go to jail.
Here’s the best way to not go to jail…
In the vast majority of states, this means that you will need a concealed carry license. These licenses have different requirements in every state. Most states will require some sort of class on firearms safety and lethal use of deadly force. It’s rare that the course action requires you to practice or qualify shooting your weapon. Most states just have the requirement to have fired a weapon at all, meeting a single shot a single time. Some states don’t even have requirements only a background check.
It’s critically important that you don’t carry your pistol concealed before your license is issued to you. Meaning, if you have filed all of your paperwork and are waiting the allotted time for the states to conduct a background check and mail your license, you cannot carry.
Even if it is legal in your state to carry a firearm while your license is pending, is generally not a good idea because law enforcement officers will see you with a gun and no identification and you won’t yet be in the proper databases for search.
Follow the law, take your class, pay for your background check, wait for the card to come and carry your license each and every time you care your gun. It might seem like a pain, but if you ever need your gun self-defense or charged with not following a firearms law, the penalties can be severe.
Types of Holsters
There a ton of different carry methods and types of holsters on the market, here are a few of the most popular options and the pros and cons of each different method.
Inside the Waistband (IWB)
This is by far the most common carry method for civilians and non-law enforcement citizens. Carry inside the waistband offers the most amount of concealment options while still providing a safe and effective draw.
Many people find inside the waistband carry uncomfortable which is usually the result of carrying around an extra few pounds, not using the proper belts, or trying to conceal too large a handgun. For a medium-sized, or compact handgun you can easily hide a handgun on your person inside the waistband. Millions of people do every day, it’s simply a matter of finding the correct position for your body type and using a good stiff holster along with a gun style belt.
While there are more holsters made for inside the waistband carry than any other method, there are fewer options available. Meaning, there are very few retention devices offered for inside the waistband carry in very few options for ride height and grip angle. Many holsters calm with a grip angle preset, or one or two options, and anything more than a thumb break or push button retention method is nearly impossible to find.
However, if you are caring inside the waistband you are most likely carrying concealed, and retention is not of the utmost concern beyond a friction fit to hold the gun place during movement. Inside the waistband is the most popular carry method in the world for a reason, it is the best blend of comfort and accessibility for anyone who is carrying a gun concealed.
- The most common carry method
- One of the fastest carry methods
- Easier to conceal
- Not as comfortable as other option
- Requires larger pants and belt
Outside the Waistband (OWB)
At sideways been holsters are extraordinarily comfort and by far the fastest to draw from. Even from concealment, these are extremely fast holsters to use and offer the most amount of options of any carry method on the market. Everything from custom-made leather holsters with several different types of retention, to full kydex options with imprinted pictures, the skies the limit with these holsters.
Outside the ways, been holsters are also made for more firearms with more options than any other type. Having a light, laser and red dot sight on your gun will not prevent you from having an effective outside the waistband holster option. Look for low-profile options that stay close to your body, even if you will be open carrying. It will be easier to quickly switch to concealed carry, as well as be less likely to catch on seatbelts and door frames while you were moving around the world.
Outside the waistband, you also have the ability to carry your gun at several different heights. The higher up your gun is carried the more comfortably will be while sitting, but the more uncomfortable it will be while walking around and drawing. If you work at a desk job that permits you to open carry, or you will be carrying outside the waistband underneath the suit, consider a high ride holster.
If you are a security guard carrying a minimal retention holster, or an everyday citizen looking for a holster and you won’t be sitting down very much, a medium or low right holster is going to be much more comfortable to carry around but be slightly more difficult to conceal.
- Most comfortable
- Fastest draw
- Can carry huge handguns
- Less secure
- Requires retention
- Harder to conceal
Shoulder holsters are very much a niche item. They are excellent for people who will be sitting a lot, people like professional drivers, office workers, and people who need deep concealment like detectives. However, they are more dangerous to use and draw from as well as requiring an overcoat or an undershirt at all times. You are over garment normally a shirt or coat, must have snaps or buttons to allow easy access to the weapon.
For people who can’t carry any other way, especially people in wheelchairs, shoulder holsters are a godsend. They allow you to carry a very large gun concealed easily and comfortably. They take special training to draw from and are very easy to interrupt the draw stroke from, but it trained well it is very easy to perfect and have an effective draw.
The main downsides to shoulder holsters is the fact you need retention, and they are expensive. Not to mention, you walk around all day with your gun flagging other people, and in a stressful situation drawn your holster, you are more likely to shoot and injure a bystander than if you are carrying on your belt. The retention is needed because gravity is going naturally want to pull the gun out of the holster, and you will need either a push button or thumb snap to keep this from happening.
The cost to make a well-designed and durable leather shoulder holster is sometimes double or triple what you could pay for a similar quality belt holster. This reason, combined with the necessity of advanced training makes a shoulder holster an expert’s choice. If you have no other way to carry, because of a disability or occupation, it is well worth it. However, if you just want a more comfortable carry method than inside the waistband to consider other holster options first.
- Most comfortable concealed holster type
- Can conceal huge handguns
- Comfortable while sitting
- Slow draw
- Leather needs to be maintained
- Nylon gear is worthless
Off Body Holsters
Off body holsters will never, ever be a good option if you have the ability to carry on your person. They have a ton of disadvantages from being the slowest method to draw, from the most likely to be stolen and sometimes the least legal method to carry. However, if you’re an expectant mother, or will always be carrying a briefcase of a planner, and can be trusted to be 100% attentive to the location of your weapon, off body carry can be a permissible method.
Look for a purpose made holster system. A bag with a dedicated pocket, a planner with hidden compartment, or a diaper bag that accepts a traditional holster is a good idea. Do not put a gun into a bag without a holster or into a pocket that has other items. There needs to be a way to protect the trigger guard and hold the gun in the same position for a consistent draw.
Also, ALWAYS draw your gun! Ladies, in particular, are given the advice to “Shoot through the purse” this is a terrible idea! Everything from injuring yourself, to a weapons malfunction and legality are all in question when this
- Most comfortable
- Can carry large handguns
- Can carry heavy handguns and lots of ammunition
- Least accessible method
- Most likely to be stolen
- Slowest draw
Pocket Carry Holster
Pocket carry holsters get a bad rap. They are an effective way to carry a miniature sized gun or backup gun, and although it has a view distinct disadvantages having a gun is better than not having a gun!
The main drawbacks to a pocket carry holster are the fact that it takes more time to draw from than other holster methods. All the safety problems associated with pocket carry are completely negated by devoting the pocket caring the gun, to only carrying the gun, and using an effective holster to cover the trigger guard of the weapon. If you do those two things, pocket carry is completely safe.
When looking for a pocket carry holster remember that thickness and the ability to fit in your pocket are going to be more important than any other aspect. Leather and soft holsters do well in this area because there doesn’t need to be retention or stiffness to the holster. You simply need a way to cover the trigger guard and a way to make sure the holster doesn’t come out with the gun when it’s time to shoot.
Several manufacturers make pocket holsters with a large hook shape built into the holster. This allows the hook to catch on the pocket material as you are drawing separating the gun from the holster. I would advise anyone looking for a pocket carry holster to carry on their strong side front pocket and use one of these products.
- Requires a tiny gun
- Requires large pockets
- Not as fast as other holsters
Vehicle Carry Holster
Carrying a firearm in your vehicle is legal in many states. Make sure you know your local and county laws before attempting to carry a gun in your vehicle long-term, but for the purposes of hunting or target shooting it’s very rare to find ordinances forbidding the transportation of firearms.
If you are going to be carrying a gun in your car or truck to and from the range, make sure it is out of plane site. Know your local laws whether you have to inform a police officer that there is a weapon in your car or truck and take measures to keep it from being stolen. If you make a side trip to get gas, for example, make sure your doors are locked, the firearm is out of plane site, and probably locked inside its case and secured to the vehicle.
If you are on ATV or motorcycle, make sure you protect your gun from the elements. Special rifle and shotgun cases are made that can be securely bolted to the frame of your vehicle to keep your gun out of the weather. Just to be sure in case you slam on brakes or have an accident that you are at risk of the gun becoming a missile and flying around and risking hitting someone.
Smaller holsters and vehicle safes have been made available in recent years that make securing and storing a firearm in a vehicle practical and safe. The vast majority of vehicle robberies are going to be a quick smash and grab style crime, and even a rudimentary locking mechanism will keep your gun from being stolen.
It can be as simple as a locking container wrapped around a bike locked and secured to the underside of the driver’s seat. Just make sure your gun is not going to be stolen if you decide to put it into a holster or lockbox inside your vehicle.
- Protects your firearm
- Easily transported
- Risk of theft is higher
- Need prior planning
- Can break laws as your travel across the country
This is a thermoplastic material that has been around for a long time. Originally used to make the fairings inside of automobiles and airplane cabins, this is the thin plastic they use to bend around moldings. It is an exceptional material for gun holsters. Likely the best ever design, the thing that sets this material part is how well it can be molded into the shape of your gun. It is completely maintenance-free, cost-effective and is the least bulky and most secure of all holster materials.
The only downside of Kydex holsters is the current crop of products offered on the market are only geared for concealed carry and non-retention holsters. Because the construction of Kydex necessitates full contact with a firearm, retention devices such as hoods or locking mechanisms are difficult to add. If you are looking for outside the waistband or a duty weapon holster it may be difficult to find a Kydex version.
The original gun holster material. Leather is still one of the most commonly used materials for holsters because not only is it easy to work with, it is comfortable to wear and durable as a holster material. There are more manufacturers making leather holsters with retention devices than any other style holster. Leather is great because it is not fully rigid like Kydex but not completely floppy like a nylon or cloth holster. It has some rigidity to it and that rigidity supports the weight of the gun on your belt while allowing for more friction retention of the firearm.
Leather holsters tend to be the most durable because they resist abrasion, and tend to bend rather than break like Kydex holsters. However, they do require more maintenance. Especially if you’re holster gets wet, you’re in for a long drying and commissioning process to make sure it doesn’t mildew.
If you are looking for a duty holster, especially a thumb break holster, this is one of the best materials to have because it gives you the most options, and is one of the most comfortable.
Nylon & Soft Holsters
These soft holsters are common for people who want a universal holster, a pocket carry holster, or just don’t want to spend very much money. As a belt mounted holster, these things are terrible! They don’t support the way the gun, offer zero retention for the weapon and don’t hold up well during practice sessions when you repeatedly draw your gun.
The only place nylon or soft-sided holsters come in handy is inside vehicles or larger cases and during pocket carry. In these areas, you don’t need to support the weight of the gun as much and it’s more important to protect the gun from debris and damage while also keeping objects out of the trigger guard. Just make sure that if you live in a humid environment you take steps to make sure the holster doesn’t trap moisture against your gun. Otherwise, you’ll be cleaning out a lot of rust!
Carrying a firearm in your vehicle is an excellent way to make sure that you have a long gun on hand in case you need it. Especially if you work in agriculture, or on a large tract of land where firearms are more commonly used. In this case, it’s often appropriate to just have the rifle sitting in the passenger seat of your truck.
However, as soon as you drive out onto a public road or leave your truck unattended you are going to need to secure your firearm and follow all local, state, and federal laws regarding the storage of firearms in vehicles. Of course, this is legal advice but for the most part, you are perfectly within your rights to carry a firearm securely stored in your vehicle when you plan to use it, and especially if you have a concealed carry permit.
Each state has its own laws regarding whether or not the firearm can be loaded, if it needs to be locked, or if you need to notify law enforcement if you get pulled over. Make sure you know exactly what to do and how to do it before you go about carrying a firearm in your vehicle.
Securing a firearm in your truck or car isn’t difficult. Especially with the new breed of portable locking gun cases and car specific firearm safes, making a secure bolted in, storage location for your vehicle has never been easier.
Never, ever leave a gun in your vehicle without being under lock or bolt. It is much too easy for a criminal to smasher window and steals your firearm, thus arming a criminal because you didn’t have the fourth site to secure your gun. Even if it means locking the gun case to the bottom of the driver seat with a bike lock, something is better than nothing and will prevent the vast majority of “smash and grab” vehicle break-ins.
Make sure that when you secure your firearm you take an extra precaution that the trigger guard is not exposed. In the event of a vehicle collision, anything can happen and you don’t want a piece of debris setting off your firearm.
For reasons like this, I would recommend that every gun carried inside a vehicle is stored cruiser ready when legal. This means, a loaded magazine with an empty chamber. This prevents negligent discharges as well as a stuck case corroding inside the chamber of the firearm.
Generally speaking, concealment holsters don’t need extra retention devices. A well-fitted Kydex or leather holster that holds the gun in if you have to run is plenty sufficient for the vast majority of people who will be concealed carrying. The very nature having a weapon concealed is that you’re not at risk of a gun grab. Any extra retention devices like thumb snaps, or push buttons can add time to your draw and take extra training.
Some people have to open carry because it is the only legal means they have. If this is the case, or you will be carrying in the woods or at an open carry event, an extra retention mechanism is advised. Meaning, a thumb snap, push button or hood that prevents the gun from being grabbed easily or falling out of his holster.
It’s very easy to find videos on the Internet of people open carrying, getting their guns stolen by criminals. Most of the time, the gun owner gets away Scott free but they did just arm a criminal who may be dangerous. Make every effort to retain your weapon at all times. Even if that means buying a more expensive holster and having to train with it.
Duty holsters need to have at least one or two extra retention mechanisms added beyond friction. If you are going to be wearing your holster in plain sight, especially if you are wearing a uniform, you are at an increased risk of being jumped in your gun taken from you if a criminal get their hands on your gun while you are on duty there’s a good chance you may not live through the encounter. Get the most secure holster you can find for your handgun and train with it until the retention barely slows down your draw.
Thousands of police officers and security guards use duty holsters, along with several different retention mechanisms, successfully every day. The slight inconvenience and training are well worth your life!
Off Body & Vehicle
When it comes to off body carry, if you must carry in this way, you are going to want any retention other than friction. It is critically important that the gun stays in its location and in the holster, otherwise, you will not have a consistent draw and will be fumbling with the gun while under duress.
Many people opt for a simple thumb snap or push button holster mounted inside a specialized handbag or locked inside a safe designed for their vehicle so they can always be sure if the gun will not go flying and always be in the correct position. This is great advice and is easy to train around. Do not casually throw a gun into a purse or glove box, this is dangerous for everybody because the gun is at free will to move around and nothing is protecting the trigger guard.
Choosing the Best Holster - Things to Consider
- Price - At first glance, a quality holster might seem expensive. However, a quality holster is one of the best investment you can make. No other factor, other than the firearm itself, is going to determine whether or not you carry your gun with you when you are going to need it. A good holster can literally save your life by making sure that the bad guys don’t snatch it and use it against you. By the best quality holster, you can afford! You wouldn’t buy a high-end exotic car input tires on it from Walmart, would you?
- It all Has to Match - The bellows are clips have to be the same size as your belt. Your holster, mad pouches, and belt all have to work together and be the same size so there is not substantial shifting or movement if you run, trip, or draw your gun. If you are police officer security guard and caring a lot of equipment, make sure you get a quality duty belt to attach everything to and use belt keepers. It all has to be the same size and match up perfectly for it to work well.
- Practice - You have to be a master of your holster. No, if’s and’s or but’s about it, drawn from your holster should be second nature. Your life may depend on your ability to pull your weapon out of your holster, and although it is unlikely, you still don’t want to run the chance of using a holster you are competent with. Especially considering the vast majority of self-inflicted gunshot wounds occur while drawing from concealment and while holstering. Be careful, and get some reps in!
- Comfort - You are going to carry your holster if it’s not comfortable. You can have the most secure, durable, and well thought out holster in the world but if it heavy and bulky and rubs your belly the wrong way you are going to carry it. A simple, low profile design may have a soft material with no sharp edges to catch on clothing or skin is going to be your best option. Even for a duty holster, you want as slim and streamlined as possible so it doesn’t conflict with moving your arms or getting through doorways and in and out of vehicles.
- “Custom” Kydex - Everybody makes Kydex! Get the cheapest one that works! The vast majority Kydex maker out there doing an excellent job, even the little custom shops and the huge manufacturers. Most people will never be able to tell Kydex manufacturers apart and spending triple just so you can have the brand of the day is just plain dumb. Get a holster that works, and don’t overpay.
- Each & Every Gun - It’s a good idea to have an effective holster for each and every gun you own. Beyond the cheap hunk of plastic that each manufacturer ships are a gun with him calls a “holster.” You’re going to want a way to carry the gun around safely should you ever use it be on a range or stored in a nightstand. Natural disasters, power outages, civil unrest, and general emergencies where you are going to want to be armed, are going to be the situations you’re glad you have a holster for every gun.
- Dry Fire Practice - A great way to get familiar with your holster while also boosting your competence with your firearms to dry fire practice. This means pulling the trigger and manipulating your gun to practice reloads, drawn from concealment, and manipulating your gun as if it had ammo in it. It doesn’t hurt to put a slight emphasis on drawing and presenting your firearm, it will break in your holster and make you more competent with using it. As well as iron out any flaws in position or holster design.
- Moisture - It’s a good idea to take your gun out of the holster and make sure it’s dry each and every day. Especially if you have a leather holster! All holsters can hold moisture against your firearm and rust it but leather holster’s, in particular, can absorb moisture from the air and transfer it to the service of your gun. Double check and make sure it’s bone dry!
- Shooting at the Range - Most ranges are not going to allow drawing in shooting from a holster. Try and find one that you can do at least 25% of your shooting from. When you do find a range that allows you to shoot from your holster, do it in the way you will be character gun! If you’re a cop, get your full duty rig on and shoot the way you are going to carry a gun. If you are concealed carrier where the T-shirt or suit that you are going to be using and draw the gun from concealment each and every time you draw and fire. Realistic training produces realistic results.
Carrying a gun is a huge responsibility. At the end of the day, a gun is a tool and how you use it is going to depend whether or not it was a good idea for you to be caring that got in the first place. Part of making sure you use it properly is having the right holster and equipment to make sure you can handle your weapon effectively and safely.
There are a ton of different holster options out there, some more effective than others. The truth is, each and every person is going to prefer and need a different specification of the holster and anyone who tries to apply a one-size-fits-all approach is just plain wrong.
Get the best holster you can afford for your chosen gun, most likely a pistol, and train with it until you know it like the back of your hand. Your life just might depend on your ability to use your holster and firearm.